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Controversial report in The Dawn, Imran Khan and unruly Pakistan Army: PM Nawaz Sharif is in a real pickle

In an effort to buy peace with the Pakistany army, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has ordered Parvaiz Rasheed, his Information and Broadcasting Minister and a confidante, to step down temporarily. The removal was ordered till the inquiry into the leakage of The Dawn story by Cyril Almedia, where it was reported that the civilian government had informed the Pakistan army that Islamabad would face international isolation unless the army cracked down on terror outfits. This report, which tarnished the image of the army, had been denied several times by the Prime Minister’s office.

But that it seems was not enough. The information minister, suspected to be behind the leak, or possibly because it happened under his watch, has been asked to stay home till the inquiry by the home minister is complete. The army, according to reports in the Pakistan press, believes Rasheed himself leaked the story. All this is happening at a time when Nawaz Sharif desperately needs the army on his side.

Sharif is facing an unprecedented political crisis with Imran Khan, former cricketer turned politician threatening to shut-down Islamabad till the prime minister resigns or allows impartial investigation into allegations of corruption against the First Family.

The Panama papers have the names of members of Sharif family as owners of off shore companies located in the British Virgin isles. Since then Sharif’s image has got a battering. Imran Khan and his PTI, have long been campaigning against corruption of the Sharif government as well as the established political parties. Khan’s campaign has resonated with ordinary Pakistanis who like Indian’s have long complained of corruption of politicians cutting across party lines. Khan had made a similar attempt to shut down the capital in 2014, but that fizzled out.

 Controversial report in The Dawn, Imran Khan and unruly Pakistan Army: PM Nawaz Sharif is in a real pickle

Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. Reuters

With Sharif already facing the anger of the army, the situation may be more difficult this time.

Imran Khan’s move could not have come at a worse time for the beseiged Pakistan Muslim League government. Sharif, never a fan of the powerful Pakistani military, had tried to lock horns with army commander Raheel Sharif over the selective action against dozens of terror outfits that have mushroomed in Pakistan with the connivance f the army, the ISI and the bening nod of politicians, afraid to cross swords with the military. Sharif tried to use the Uri attack to get his way. But as is always the case of politicians in Pakistan, the army is much stronger. Nor is the main opposition Peoples’s Party of Pakistan (PPP) of Bilawal Zardari Bhutto closing ranks to take on the army.

So Sharif has no option but to placate the army and get General Raheel Sharif to support government action against the PTI threatning to close down the capital from 2 November.

Last Thursday, senior leaders of the ruling Pakistan Muslim League PML (N) met with General Raheel Sharif in the army headquarters. Punjab chief minister Shehbaz Sharif was present along with interior minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan, finance minister Ishaq Dar. The top leaders briefed the army commander on the internal security situation and investigations on the Dawn story leak. A deal was clearly struck as hours later a rally of Imran Khan’s supporters was broken up by the federal police. On Saturday Rasheed stepped down. And the government now appears to much more confident in dealing with Imran Khan and the protests. Imran himself is confined to his home, worried he may be arrested if he steps out.

Sharif speaking at a gathering in his home state of Punjab, went on the offensive against Imran Khan. He spoke of his jail term in Attock Fort, where he was put after General Musharraf’s coup. “When we were in jails, they were running the dictators’ referendum campaign,” he recalled.The prime minister said: “Imran Khan has never seen jail. We have fought a military dictator, spent time in prison and exile, all for the sake of democracy.”

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Updated Date: Oct 30, 2016 17:13:51 IST